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  • Finding Mauer's Replacement: Part 2

    So the Twins have a problem. For the first time since A.J. Pierzynski first established himself as a regular, the club lacks an entrenched stalwart behind the plate. As discussed earlier this week, the solution might be in-house, but that's far from guaranteed.

    The timing of the announcement regarding Joe Mauer's position switch at first struck me as odd. Just three weeks earlier Terry Ryan had stated that he was planning around Mauer being a full-time catcher, while also reinforcing the dubious notion that the choice was ultimately up to the player. Why change course so quickly?

    As much as they tried to emphasize that the decision was in Mauer's hands, the Twins faced circumstances that forced a quickened verdict. His concussion symptoms had lingered into October, further cementing the reality that returning him to any sort of regular catching duty was an unacceptable risk.

    That the public announcement coincided so closely with the start of free agency is a sure sign that Ryan plans to actively seek a backstop on the open market. There's an interesting crop at the position this year, including numerous realistic targets for the Twins.

    Let's take a look at a few that stand out as likely suspects:

    The Reunion: A.J. Pierzynski

    The Twins have apparently been feeling nostalgic of late; earlier this week, they signed Jason Bartlett to a minor-league contract. In that spirit, signing Pierzynski would be a logical progression.

    Whereas Mauer's plight is hardly unique for catchers past 30, Pierzynski has been an exception to the rule. He's a brat on the field, earning him scorn from many opposing (and especially former) fans, but Pierzynski has been crouching behind the plate regularly for 12 seasons -- never missing more than 34 games -- and has shown no signs of wear. In fact, he had a career year in 2012 at age 35 and blasted 17 homers in 2013.

    Pierzynski makes sense for many reasons. He's familiar, he's an experienced veteran who hits from Josmil Pinto's opposite side, and he won't require a long-term deal. He will, however, require a generous salary commitment, because while I'm sure the wave of boos raining down during every visit to Target Field have made his heart yearn for Minnesota, he's probably not too enthused about going from a team that made the playoffs to one that has lost 95 in three straight seasons.

    The Power Bat: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

    One of the main complaints about Mauer's move to first base is that, as a guy who has topped 13 homers just once in his career, he doesn't provide the pop you'd like to see at the position. This overstated issue could be offset by the addition of a legitimate home run threat behind the plate, and Saltalamacchia -- who has hit 55 homers with a .457 slugging percentage over the past three seasons -- definitely fits that bill.

    Coming off a career year for the World Champion Red Sox, the 28-year-old Salty is the second best offensive catcher on the market behind Brian McCann, and he figures to command a sizable sum. As such, it's hard to see the Twins ponying up unless they really lack confidence in Pinto. Nonetheless, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports that the club has expressed "preliminary interest" in the slugger.

    The Grizzled Vet: John Buck

    In my hypothetical offseason blueprint for the Handbook, Buck is the catcher I had the Twins signing. Not because he was my ideal choice, necessarily, but because he's a guy I could easily see the team pursuing, and it's a choice I could get on board with.

    Unlike Pierzynski or Saltalamacchia, Buck would not come aboard with the expectation of starting full-time. He's spent much of his career as a part-time player or backup, hitting .234/.301/.400. At 33, Buck has caught more than 1,000 MLB games and has a good defensive reputation. Although he's not a great hitter (.215 average and .661 OPS over the last three years) he does bring some power to the table. He has reached double digits in homers in four straight seasons.

    In short, Buck is a guy who would fit as a backup or -- in a short-term pinch -- as a starter. And he won't cost much.

    The Framer: Jose Molina

    Advanced statistics have lagged behind in terms of evaluating defense, and nowhere has that been more true than at catcher. Strides have been made in recent years, though, with one of the most notable being Mike Fast's study on pitch framing that assigned a concrete value to the aptitude of different catchers to strategically receive deliveries and help their pitchers get strike calls. At the top of the list: Jose Molina.

    Of course, Molina is also a terrible hitter, with a career OPS checking in at .627. Still, if Fast's research is to be believed, Molina's framing proficiency saves his team an average of 35 runs per 120 games played. That helps offset the lacking offense considerably.

    The Twins are probably less inclined than the forward-thinking Rays, who employed Molina in 2013, to lend credence to a Baseball Prospectus study. However, the ability to influence borderline pitches would have to appeal to a club that largely tends toward hurlers who live and die around the edges of the strike zone.
    This article was originally published in blog: Find Mauer's Replacement: Part 2 started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 27 Comments
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      I am in the Molina camp as well. Although, I do like the idea of AJ, I am not sure that he would take a mid-season demotion well. A VERY GOOD defensive catcher and game caller is what this young, inexperienced staff needs. Gibson, then Meyer, even Deduno should rely on a veteran catcher to call pitches for them. Molina knows the hitters far better than our you guys or even long-time NL guys like Correia. Molina can have the everyday job, Herrmann the backup and Pinto can start in AAA and work on his defense and game calling. Bring Pinto up in mid-June and give him the full-time job, unless Molina and the staff are doing amazing.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan34 View Post
      I'd rather see Pinto 'fail' and hit .250 all year than these guys. Molina is the only different one.
      Pinto is also young, I'm not sure sacrificing him helps him develop as part of a long term plan. That has to be factored as well.
    1. big dog's Avatar
      big dog -
      I hope that Pinto does well and Fryer doesn't get out of AAA. I don't think having some spring training backups is a bad thing. I also remember lots of people spending the year talking about all the roster spots that could be easily created (Hermsen, etc), so I don't understand all the drama about this one.

      I strongly disagree with the sentiment expressed above, that someone hopes the Twins lose a player in the Rule V as punishment for having Fryer on the roster. That goes strongly against my personal approach to being a fan.

      That said, I'm not sure my personal approach to being a fan could tolerate having AJ on the team, so I guess we each have to set our own limits based on our own preferences.
    1. bphat1's Avatar
      bphat1 -
      I'd prefer Suzuki. He brings a little more offensive punch, though he is also a right-handed batter (I think it makes some sense to sign a lefty opposite Pinto). The only positive about Molina is his language. Otherwise, if we wanted a defensive specialist who couldn't hit, we should have just kept Butera for the league minimum. People seem to be forgetting how awful this team is offensively. Yes, we absolutely need starting pitching and that is where the bulk of our FA dollars should go, but the lineup thrown out above by another poster is just atrocious. I realize it will be better if/when Sano/Rosario and Buxton get here, but why not try to upgrade the positions those guys don't play? Or sign a better stopgap than Florimon, Plouffe, Willingham (I think he's toast, though I hope I'm wrong) and whoever is gonna play CF? Personally, I'd love to see them go after someone like Rashied Davis (I think I'm getting the name right) from Toronto. I have no idea if he's a FA or not, which is why I say "someone like." He's speedy, has some power for a little guy and would be a good fit for 4th outfielder/pinch runner when Buxton gets here. He shouldn't cost too much either. I'm not looking for them to break the bank on any offensive positions, but we need help there too. Any other positions players people here have ideas about? I haven't even looked at the FA list in months.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I've mentioned him a couple of times already, but Ryan Hanigan of the Reds sounds ideal if the Twins want to go slow with Pinto but make him the regular by season's end. MLB Trade Rumors has a story on him today, it mentions not only an outstanding caught stealing percentage, but also good skill at framing pitches.
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      I'm a big fan of Molina for the two reasons others are stating:

      1. He speaks freaking spanish, unlike anyone on the coaching staff besides the Texan, Cuellar.
      2. Pitch framing! That would be a big help to the pitching staff. Also, I'm not sure if it's a teachable skill, but maybe he could teach Pinto how to do that.

      The mentor thing is probably overstated, but it couldn't hurt to have him and Mauer giving Pinto tips. No matter who they sign, I hope Pinto starts most games at catcher next year.
    1. NealcpLA's Avatar
      NealcpLA -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      The top 2 do not make sense because a. of Pierzynski's relationships with his teammates when with the Twins and b. because Salty will be too expensive.

      Another catcher that makes sense for the Twins (speaking about framing) is Ryan Hanigan who the Reds are shopping because they just signed Pena to be their back up. He comes from a down season at the plate due to wrist injury, but he can be a great mentor for someone like Pinto and Herrmann.

      However, if the Twins get a C from outside the organization, Doumit is all but finished...
      I see "Pierzynski's relationship with his teammates when with the Twins" as nonsense and irrelevant. In the first place, nearly all AJ's teammates have loved him...WHILE he played with them; he's a gamer and a good teammate. Secondly, name 2 players on the Twins' current roster who were even with the team when he was. Recall his departure exactly pre-dated Mauer's arrival. That said, Hannigan isn't a bad option and especially so if they end up signing Arroyo...
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